Almost 30,000 sign petition to save £650,000 annual SLCN funding

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

A £650,000 government cut is putting at risk specialist support for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) – one of the most common childhood disabilities – it has been warned.

From April 1, the Department for Education (DfE) is to discontinue the special contract for SLCN after funding it for the last 10 years.

During this time, the work under this contract has been carried out by the Communication Trust, but the cut will put the charity at risk according to its director Octavia Holland.

The Communication Trust represents a consortium of 56 charities and not-for-profit organisations across England. The annual contract is worth £650,000 a year and makes up the majority of the charity’s funding.

An online petition launched by the National Association of Professionals concerned with Language Impairment in Children (NAPLIC) to try and reverse the decision has reached around 30,000 signatures in six weeks.

The cut has come in the DfE’s proposed new contract – the Strategic Support to the Workforce in Mainstream and Special Schools – which comes into effect on April 1. The contract makes no mention of SLCN.

It leaves a question mark over how support for pupils with SLCN will be delivered.

The Communication Trust’s own research shows that SLCN is one of the most common childhood disabilities. Estimates suggest that as many as 10 per cent of children have SLCN – around 1.4 million children across the UK. It is reported that two children in every classroom will have Developmental Language Disorder, one of a range of SLCN. However most teachers are unaware of the condition (Communication Trust, 2017).

The research also shows that in poorer areas of the country, up to 50 per cent of children can start school with delayed language skills and that children with SLCN are at a higher risk of exclusion.

The issue has been raised in Parliament. A written question tabled by shadow education minister Tracy Brabin MP asked the DfE whether there had been any consultation over the decision to discontinue the funding.

Responding, Parliamentary under-secretary of state for education, Nadhim Zahawi wrote: “The Department for Education’s current one-year contract with I CAN, on behalf of the Communication Trust is due to end, as planned, at the end of March 2018. We were clear with the Communication Trust at the beginning of the 2017/18 contract that the contract was for one year only.

“Over the last year, we have been working with the Communication Trust on the sustainability of their work beyond the contract period. We are also discussing with the Communication Trust how we will best ensure that all practitioners are able to make continued use of the wealth of materials, resources and training developed through this contract.”

The Communication Trust was established in 2007 in response to a lack of understanding about SLCN within early years and school settings. It has around 52,000 registered practitioners, offers online courses and qualifications, receives dozens of telephone queries a day and runs workshops and training. However, Ms Holland says most of this work is under threat and fears for the charity’s legacy.

She said: “The DfE’s plans to cut funding for SLCN are shockingly short-sighted. The demand for expert programmes of support, from those who work directly with children and young people, has increased by over 20 per cent in the last year alone.

“A decade’s continuous funding has led to a very highly regarded service which will now have to be disbanded. This is incredibly wasteful and misguided and we’re still in the dark about the rationale for this decision.”

Stephen Parsons, chair of NAPLIC, added: “The Communication Trust has done a brilliant job of leading and supporting a wide range of practitioners from early years to further education colleges. They provide trusted, accessible information that allows practitioners to improve the quality of their practice and be more efficient. To cut the funding of the Communication Trust feels like a huge own goal.”

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